It is fairly well-known that retirement and declining prospects often generate refreshing candour from political leaders and bureaucrats. Pakistan’s former dictator and president General Pervez Musharraf lives in Karachi exiled from political life but occasionally compels attention via dramatic remarks. In comments on Sunday that will have unsettled the military establishment that protects him, General Musharraf frankly acknowledged the support and training that Pakistan rendered to terror groups fighting in Kashmir, thus putting an end to the pretence that Islamabad does not maintain a militant infrastructure aimed at India.
There are a couple of aspects of the General’s remarks that are worth noting. He situates Pakistan’s support to terrorist groups in the context of the war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s and emphasises that Jalaluddin Haqqani, Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri were all “heroes” as were Lashkar-e-Taiba’s Hafiz Saeed and Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi. His only regret is that “religious militancy turned into terrorism” which later led to terrorists “killing their own people” which must be stopped. He clearly continues to see some terrorists as assets so long they attack other countries instead of Pakistan, still oblivious to the dangers that religious militancy poses in itself — having wreaked untold damage to Pakistan’s social fabric. General Musharraf’s refusal to comment on whether Saeed or Lakhvi should remain in jail for their terrorist activities underlines the persisting ambiguity about terrorism — borne out by the fact that the Punjab government in Pakistan is now beefing up Saeed’s security owing to a presumed threat to this life. That the Pakistani State provides security to a globally-designated terrorist speaks to its schizophrenic approach that General Musharraf endorses. That is regrettably a very short-sighted strategy as NSA Ajit Doval pointed out this week.
General Musharraf’s remarks will vindicate some Indian conservatives who maintain that the Pakistan military’s orientation towards India has not changed. New Delhi will have also noted General Musharraf’s criticism of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his view that General Raheel Sharif should get an extension as army chief. It may see no reason to change its policy for a while.